One of the best things you can do for your Iceland trip is to know what to pack and wear. Although it’s called the Land of Fire and Ice, let’s be real; there’s a lot of ice. Our far northern latitude in the North Atlantic means that even warm summer days hover in the high 50s (around 15 ºC). Coming in the fall, winter, or spring means the weather is even colder. You need to have the perfect Iceland packing list so that you can stay comfortable, warm and dry.
Iceland Packing List
Nothing will ruin your trip faster than being cold and wet because you came without the right clothing. But if you know what to pack for Iceland, your trip will be a breeze. You can focus on glacier hikes, hot springs, and all the other cool things to do. We’ve created this packing list for Iceland so that you’ll be prepared. And it’s not all thermal underwear and waterproof hiking boots for Landmannalaugar. You’ll also need your bathing suit, water bottle, and other essentials that might surprise you. Alright, let’s check out what to bring to Iceland!
What's the Four-Layer Rule?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what to pack for Iceland, I'd like to talk about a guideline for how to dress. It's called the four-layer rule and it's quite simple. Essentially, you need to have four specific types of layers to maximize warmth and minimize moisture creeping in.
So what are these four magic layers exactly? I'm so glad you asked. They are:
Your Base Layer
A Second Layer
An Insulation layer
The Outer Shell Layer
Each one serves a different purpose and requires a specific item of clothing. Let's break it down.
Your base layer is going to do two things. First, it's going to trap your body heat, which is extremely important when facing Iceland's sometimes extreme temperatures. Second, it's going to wick sweat and moisture from your skin, which will keep you dry. For this layer, I recommend Merino wool as it is high-quality, absorbs moisture well, and will keep you warm and toasty. Avoid cotton like the plague as it tends to get wet easily and stay wet, leaving you chilled to the bone.
The second layer is quite similar to your base layer. It's also meant to retain body heat (noticing a theme here?) and is great for those times when you'll need to stay warm but want to remove some layers. This could be another item of Merino wool, a fleece top, or a fleece-lined shirt or sweater. The key is that it retains heat and is breathable.
The third layer is an insulating layer. It's used to keep in all of that precious body heat that we've managed to keep under wraps with our first two layers. A typical piece of clothing for this layer would be a puffy coat from brands like The North Face. Just make sure your insulating item is not made from down. That filler material gets wet easily and takes forever to dry, which is not ideal when you're visiting Iceland.
Lastly, you'll need an outer shell layer. This is the one that's going to protect you against the elements. For this item on your packing list, you're going to need some sort of rain jacket or other waterproof, windproof jacket. Gore-Tex is a really popular brand for this because it both repels liquid and lets water vapor pass through. It's waterproof, lightweight fabric designed to be used in all types of weather.
So now that you've got your primer for clothing, let's look at what else to bring to Iceland. We'll also put a bulleted list at the end for quick reference.
Summer Packing List for Iceland
It's a good idea to bring a sleep mask if you plan on visiting Iceland in the summer. The amazing Midnight Sun gives you lots of extra time to visit places like the South Coast or do extra stops on the Golden Circle route. But the drawback is that unless you have really thick blackout curtains in your hotel room, you're going to have a very hard time getting to sleep.
And remember just because you're doing summer packing doesn't mean that you can skimp on the extra long sleeve shirts or wool undergarments. your packing list for Iceland needs to include everything from the four-layer rule, regardless of the time of year you visit. Summer could be sunny but we've also had snow storms in June.
Hiking boots are also a must for when you visit places in the Highlands like Haifoss waterfall. This area of the country is closed during most of the year but opens up in the summer.
What to Pack for Iceland in September and the Fall
When you're thinking about what to pack for Iceland in September, the first thing that I want you to keep in mind is that you are likely going to be outside at night. That's because the middle of September is when the Northern Lights season in Iceland begins.
With your Iceland car rental, if you come during the darker months you'll be able to do a Northern Lights hunt with your Iceland car rental. So be sure to bring long-sleeved shirts and plenty of warm layers. When preparing what to pack for Iceland in September you also want to keep in mind that it tends to be especially rainy during this season. Fall is when we make the transition to being covered with snow so keep that in mind when packing your suitcase.
What to Bring to Iceland in the Winter
Icelandic winter typically arrives in November and lasts through March. You still have the beautiful Northern Lights on display the during cold, clear nights. When thinking about what to bring to Iceland in winter, the cold weather activities here include things like glacier hikes and trekking through ice caves.
Something that might surprise you about traveling to Iceland is that you can also visit
hot springs at any time of year. People come to the Blue Lagoon and the Myvatn Nature Baths as well as natural outdoor geothermal springs and hot pots. Whether you come in the winter or the summer, pack your swimsuit, a microfiber towel, and if needed, flip flops
What to Pack for Iceland in the Spring
Lastly, let's cover a springtime visit to Iceland. Temperatures are slightly warmer than in the winter but still pretty much warrant the four types of layers outlined above. When you decide to rent a car in Iceland it's definitely the best way to see the island and all of the great things to do. This is another great opportunity to go hiking, explore the fjords, and visit hot springs and waterfalls. As long as you bring a combination of the right types of clothes, you’ll be all set.
Shoes for Iceland
There are two main types of shoes for Iceland and the ones you bring depend upon the time of year. At a minimum, you definitely want to invest in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots. You will use these not only in the summertime for hiking, but also exploring places like Seljalandsfoss waterfall and Vatnajökull National Park, regardless of the time of year. Just make sure they have really good traction because you'll probably be stepping on a lot of ice and snow.
You can also bring a pair of snow boots if you're coming in winter. In addition to these necessary shoes for Iceland, also bring a pair of flip-flops if you plan on going to a spa or geothermal bath. And don't forget to bring quick dry wool socks when you're packing for Iceland.
Comprehensive List of Items to Pack
So that you have something quick and easy to reference, here's our final Iceland packing list of everything you need. And if you discover you've forgotten something at home, just head to Laugavegur Street for some Reykjavik shopping.
Two thermal shirts. Long-sleeved and preferably Merino wool or some other warm fabric.
Two light undershirts. These will come in especially handy if you plan on hiking in Landmannalaugar or elsewhere.
Four or five thin shirts. You'll be mixing these with your thermals and light undershirts and be peeling off layers as needed.
Fleece top (optional) as an additional layer.
Insulating layer or puffy coat. Stay away from down filling.
One waterproof and preferably windproof rain jacket.
Sleeping mask if you come in the summer.
Pants or fleece-lined pants (depending on the time of year).
A couple of sweaters.
A towel. Preferably microfiber to dry quickly.
Flip flops if going to a spa
A wool hat and insulated gloves.
Underwear and wool socks.
Refillable water bottle. Tap water is delicious, so drink up.
Everything You Need to Pack For Iceland
Iceland is an amazing place with astounding natural wonders unlike anything you've ever seen or experienced. You will no doubt have an unforgettable, once in a lifetime trip when you come to visit. But what makes Iceland so incredible also makes it somewhere that you really need to prepare for. We also have a list of non-clothing related items to pack for Iceland that you can check out.
It's not everyday that you hike a glacier, visit a volcanic crater lake, or witness the spectacular Northern Lights. A trip to Iceland is something that you'll never forget, so be sure to include all of the items we mentioned in your suitcase. You'll be more than ready take full advantage of everything our beautiful Nordic island has to offer.